Posts Tagged ‘Loire Valley’
South of Blois in the Loire Valley, the 18th-century Château de Chambord rises at the heart of over 5,000 hectares (12,000+ acres) of ancient forest. Chambord was the personal chateau and hunting sanctuary of King Francois I, and today is the largest enclosed forest park in Europe.
Our first encounter with Chambord destined our return. We attended the light show — “les clairs de lune de Chambord” — a fantasy light show production created to recall the hunting of deer and boar, fox and pheasant by guests of King Francois. We arrived shortly before sunset to stroll through the grounds surrounding the Château. Couples shared ice cream or light snacks under an outdoor arbor. Others dined on the patio of a hotel restaurant.
Wait – hotel? There is actually a quaint hotel overlooking this magnificent chateau? With little hope that it would be affordable or available for the one night we would have between gite rentals, we had to check. When we were able to book a room at a reasonable $75 rate, we felt as if the king himself had invited us to his retreat!
Prior to the show, we watched families gather on the lawn with children, couples take to rowboats to enjoy an end-of-day outing. France bestows these blessings on a public entranced by history and tradition. Chambord’s information pamphlet reinforces this gift:
“It is to the passion of Francois I for hunting, that we owe the existence of Chambord, designed both as a meeting place and a belvedere for observing the hunt.”
Alas, when we returned a few days later, Francois was not on hand to greet us. Still, we wandered the grounds and imagined the privileged guests and game hunting of 300 years past. Visitors biked and hiked through the many lanes that lace through the forest. Others gathered for the equestrian and falcon shows.
This night, we would see the light show from our dining table on the terrace. Indeed, with our exceptional bottle of local Vouvray and delicious French fare, we felt like guests of the king! When the park closed, only the hotel guests and Château staff shared this enormous sanctuary. Chambord remains a national hunting reserve and home to an abundance of wild creatures that roam free. No, we didn’t encounter a graceful stag or menacing boar, but the crisp night sky offered us millions of stars to illuminate our stay.
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We took the train from Paris to Blois, quietly traversing the flat, fertile countryside and miles of vivid yellow rapeseed fields. Friends told us about a quaint Château near Blois, so we planned a weekend getaway and off we went.
We explore a bit in Blois, before picking up our rental car. We walk through medieval streets, handsome windows hung with scenes on lace and ornate doors bidding welcome.
After picking up the car, we thread through roundabouts and over bridges to make our way to our 18th-century Château De Nanteuil overlooking the petite River Cosson. Our host, Frédéric Théry, welcomes us and sits for a chat over café au lait and a delicious île flottante dessert (floating island). Frédéric’s English grandfather – a Trinity College Cambridge gent – purchased the Château in the early 1900’s. Frédéric has never been to America; and we have the feeling, he neither feels deprived nor in need of going.
Following his recommendations, we visit Brassieux, driving through forested lanes and age-old villages, past Loire Châteaux and stone-walled cottages to arrive in the petite commune. We wander a bit and discover an antiquaire, where we ring a bell and are welcomed by the shop keeper. Her store is filled with silver and pewter, bits of lace and lamps, books and lanterns and china. We pick two treasures – a 50-year-old yellow Quimper plate and an authentic pigeon oil lamp and return to our weekend ‘home’.
Le Château is both grand and ‘unfinished’, with many touches of charm but no defined décor. Our room overlooks the garden and river, with an enormous bath, eight-foot doors, a fireplace, but no television nor phone (no problem!), stationery package or tiny bottled shampoo – definitely not a Comfort Inn for which we are grateful.
A fire in the dining room greets us, and within minutes, we are enjoying a glass of red wine, soon to be followed by a feast of lapin (rabbit), soup and an enormous crème brûlée. A large family and a couple of other smaller parties had arrived, and we tried to figure out the mothers, fathers, couples – who are they at this large table presided over with discretion and charm by a happy, bifocaled gran père?
Another great adventure is coming to a close, while our anticipation of the next already grows.
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Copyright © 2005, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.